California has always been a benchmark (at least for me) when it comes to trends within our food and wine industry. The San Francisco Bay area, along with the surrounding wine country often sets many standards that the rest of us adopt, though sometimes a bit later than sooner. On a recent visit to the region with amical Executive Chef Benjamin Hoxie, it wasn’t a real surprise to see that our Grand Traverse region reflects somewhat of a parallel universe, albeit on a minuscule scale.
If you can put aside the obvious demographic differences and milder climate (understatement!), many of our local industry professionals follow the same path and commitments which is a daily practice on the West Coast: buy locally, use the best sustainable ingredients available, provide a high level of service to your patrons, all while nurturing and educating your staff to practice your beliefs.
Most of our time was spent with Chef Stuart Brioza of State Bird Provisions and The Progress. Brioza, along with his wife Nicole Krasinski, opened SBP in 2011, followed by The Progress in 2014 which was awarded a Michelin star in 2018. At SBP, Chef Ben spent two days in the kitchen, observing methods and assisting in the preparation of menu items for the evening service with the SBP kitchen team. (Full disclosure: amical will be producing recipes from the State Bird Provisions cookbook May 6th -11th which is what started this adventure)
At SBP, each Tuesday is Farm day. Harvested produce dropped onto dining room tables that morning for sorting and cleaning in a literal Farm to Table exercise. For the next few hours, all staff turned their attention to the early week harvest. State Bird Provision’s Farm is located just south of the city. Each season, its size and harvest have gradually increased as the farm management consults with the chef requests from both locations. The restaurants are the only end-users of these farm products. Both dining rooms have separate kitchens and utilize all of the produce delivered to them. Just as many of our local chefs have experienced, the delivery may not include amounts or exact ingredients ordered or anticipated. Mother Nature doesn’t play favorites, whether you own the farm or not. Even the famous Napa Valley garden across from the French Laundry in Yountville wasn’t spared the effects of a rough winter. Restaurant chefs know that you take what you can get and adjust your menu from there.
The modern California dim sum style menu and service of State Bird Provisions is one of the most uniquely satisfying dining experiences ever. The creative execution of the menu items and their development are a never-ending thought process that must be absolutely intoxicating to any member of their kitchen staff. Talking with Brioza, we learned this is a nurturing environment that never ceases to inspire, educate and bring out the best in all the staff members. We can’t help but feel this as the dim sum trays sweep by your table, presented to you by both kitchen and service team members. The dishes are expertly described, without pretention, but with that natural hint of pride and confidence.
This was a key takeaway for us. While we might be able to pull off some of these menu items for a week during May, we continue to strive in having that same feeling permeate our dining room for our guests to experience. Could it be that our staff is our most valuable locally sourced ingredient?!
In looking back at all we experienced in this whirlwind West Coast pilgrimage, the comparisons are remarkably similar. While we can’t objectively measure with the same criteria, we can continue to build on the thoughts many of us have known to be true: We are more alike than different.
David Denison opened Amical in 1994. He remains the owner and operator of one of Traverse City’s best loved restaurants. Learn more about the business at amical.com
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